Activists urge tenants hit by coronavirus crisis to stop paying rent | Money

Activists are calling on tenants whose incomes have been hit by the coronavirus crisis to withhold all or part of their payments to landlords, in an attempt to generalise a growing rent strike movement.

The campaign, headed by the London Renters Union, comes after activists in the US and Australia, and students at universities across the UK, began withholding their rents because of the crisis.

Activists believe there is wide public support for the move after YouGov polling, conducted on behalf of LRU, found that 45% of people thought other essentials should take priority over rental payments for those facing financial problems, and 22% said any tenant struggling to make ends meet should not have to pay rent.

Following a model tested by US and Australian activists, LRU is calling on people facing difficulties to pledge online to withhold enough of their rent to meet their basic needs, including food and bills. More than 11,000 members and supporters have been invited to join, and invitations have been sent out on the mailing list of Momentum, which is backing the campaign.

Claire Weldon, an organiser with the LRU, said: “We’re asking people to sign up at because lots of renters are feeling isolated right now, but we know that people can be powerful when they come together. If people join together we can share our advice on how to tell landlords that we’re not going to pay some of their rent, and how to resist eviction.”

However, other major renters’ unions, including Living Rent, in Scotland, and Acorn, which organises in 19 English towns and cities, are taking a different approach. Nick Ballard, Acorn’s head organiser, said he was not against such actions, and that members had already staged successful local rent strikes, including at student halls in Lancaster, with others planned in Coventry, Warwick, Bristol and Nottingham.

But, he said, Acorn preferred at this stage to focus on building from a local level, rather than an all-out effort. He called on any renters anxious about their housing security to join a renters’ union before taking strike action.

The call to withhold rents comes as many people are facing poverty because of the lockdown. Recent polling suggested hundreds of thousands may already be cutting back on food and other essentials to pay landlords. The Opinium poll for the Guardian found 25% of respondents had had to leave their home because of the crisis.

Earlier this month, analysis by the New Economics Foundation thinktank showed that 1.2 million private renters in the UK will fall through the cracks in government schemes to help workers who have lost income, and face scraping a living on benefits.

Ministers have suspended eviction proceedings for the duration of the crisis, although landlords can still issue notices to tenants who fall behind with payments. Earlier this week, Acorn, LRU and Living Rent jointly sent a letter to the government asking it to suspend rent payments for the duration of the crisis, to cancel any debts already accrued, and to protect renters from eviction.

The letter said: “Thousands of renters have joined tenant and community unions over the past six weeks. Together, we will continue to organised to protect our homes and our communities, and we are ready to take further collective action if the government fails to adequately address the growing coronavirus rent crisis.”

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